Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
April 25, 2022

Trouble with the Tactile Sense

Getting tapped on the shoulder, putting on a new wool sweater, or wearing socks with seams, all seem like common, everyday sensory experiences.  However, for some kids, the variations and unpredictability in tactile input (aka the feelings of light touch, dry, wet, clean, messy, etc.) can cause extreme emotional responses such as overstimulation and discomfort.  

Truthfully, we are ALL bombarded with tactile information ALL of the time, from clothes on our skin to things we intentionally (or unintentionally) touch throughout our days. Our brains are typically able to filter out what is unnecessary and unthreatening, however a child with tactile defensiveness may process and react to all of this information at once. This can be extremely overwhelming for your little one and you may see significant meltdowns or more mild emotional outbursts. The degree of their avoidance or rejection of clothing items due to their texture, is often related to how much it affects the child’s everyday function. For example, socks may be an extreme pain point as they need to wear them daily whereas a rain jacket is a more manageable struggle since they only wear it on inclimate weather days. 

Warning Signs

Is your child refusing any shirts but long-sleeves? She may be struggling with having her arms exposed because she does not like the feeling of the wind or other textures on her skin.

Is your child revolting against tight clothes or socks under shoes? He may prefer looser clothing that doesn’t feel restricting, items without tags rubbing against his back, or clothing that doesn’t have seams digging into his skin. Has he requested inside out yet? So many of us have been there, you are not alone mama!

Your child may dislike messy play, dirt, sand, shaving cream or paint, or may not like walking barefoot in the grass or sand. While these pain points can be extremely frustrating, there are steps you can take to help your child through their struggles.

What to Do?
  • Use firm, consistent pressure.  Since light touch can be more irritating to the nervous system, firmer pressure allows for more discriminative touch.  
  • Request simple modifications in school.  Speak with your child’s teacher about his struggles and ask if he would be able in the front or back of the line to minimize the likelihood that he’ll bump or brush into peers. She may need extra changes of clothing at school in case hers get wet or dirty. 
  • Make modifications at home as needed. Turn socks inside out and cut off annoying tags. Our top goal is to make your child’s day as smooth and as productive as possible. Forcing your child “to get used to” seams or other annoyances will likely lead to lots of tears and discomfort that won’t just go away. 
  • Take one new texture at a time. Too many changes might be tough to handle, so gradually introduce new mediums or clothing changes one at a time. Try offering a very comfortable outfit on a day new shoes are being worn. 
  • Encourage messy play!  Incorporate a variety of tactile mediums during play time including sand, shaving cream, and paint, for her to explore on her own terms. Exposure is key.
  • Don’t expect him to dig right in.  Provide tools for play, like watering cans, spoons, cups, or brushes, and then slowly fade them out over a few days or weeks to encourage more direct hand play. 
  • Prioritize proprioceptive input (a fancy way of saying how our joints and muscles understand movement and body position)!  Contracting, relaxing, and using our muscles against gravity provide lots of valuable proprioceptive input, which is very organizing and calming for the tactile system. Some of our favorite activities that provide proprioceptive input include swimming, gymnastics, and martial arts. 
Bottom Line

Tactile defensiveness can often indicate an immature nervous system that needs more opportunities for more discriminative or “uncomfortable” touch. If your child has tactile sensitivity, she may exhibit one or all of the examples given, so try implementing the most appropriate tips mentioned above. If you still feel as though your child’s tactile aversions are severely affecting his or her function, please reach out to an Occupational Therapist for more detailed guidance.

Have more questions about tactile defensiveness? Head over to our free community, we’ll be happy to help you over there!



Free Download

5 Things Your Baby Wants You to Know About Their Development

If you’re like most parents, your baby’s first-year milestones feel sort of mysterious. You may know the big ones they need to hit… but knowing how to make them happen is a whole different story.

Download this free guide to learn five surprising things about your little one’s development. (You’re going to loooooooove #4!)

Allison Mell (L), Doctor of Physical Therapy 

Mary Deutsch (R), Licensed Occupational Therapist

Hi there!

We’re Allison & Mary.

Over the past decade, we’ve talked with hundreds of parents and educators who want to help their kiddos stay on track developmentally.

But wanting to do something and knowing how to do it are two entirely different things. So they often feel a bit lost and a lot frustrated.

We created Tots on Target to bridge the gap between parents and pediatric professionals so we can all work together to support every child’s development.

Hi there!

We’re Allison & Mary.

Over the past decade, we’ve talked with hundreds of parents and educators who want to help their kiddos stay on track developmentally.

But wanting to do something and knowing how to do it are two entirely different things. So they often feel a bit lost and a lot frustrated.

We created Tots on Target to bridge the gap between parents and pediatric professionals so we can all work together to support every child’s development.

Allison Mell (L), Doctor of Physical Therapy 

Mary Deutsch (R), Licensed Occupational Therapist

Trusted by 100K parents and counting.

 

@totsontarget

[FREEBIE] 5 Things Your Baby Wants You to Know About Their Development

Enter your name and email address below and we'll send this helpful guide! 

Thanks! Check your inbox! (It may take a few minutes...)

[FREEBIE] 5 Things Your Baby Wants You to Know About Their Development

✔️ Learn how to help your baby reach special milestones
✔️ Get tons of actionable activities you can practice with your little one (without all the expensive toys)
✔️ Discover exactly what your baby needs to build strength and confidence

Enter your name and email address below and we'll send this helpful guide! 

Thanks! Check your inbox! (It may take a few minutes...)